During my childhood, I evolved through various collections of toys.
One of the first, and longest lasting, was Action Man, and one of the most endearing memories I have is being at my dad’s garage (he sold cars for large periods of my upbringing) and stumbling across a huge cardboard box full of assorted Action Man figures, clothes and vehicles under his desk.
He’d bought them from a friend whose kids had grown out of them, as a present for my upcoming birthday.
A number of elements made this box extra special.
First, just the volume of it, in one place.
I already had a fair collection of Action Man toys, but I was aware enough about the cost of things to know that each birthday or Christmas I wasn’t like to get more than a couple of new toys.
So to have here what perhaps amounted to half a dozen Christmases worth of toys in one giant box was terribly exciting.
Second, it was the diversity and hitherto unknown range of stuff I found as I rummaged through.
I was used to receiving perhaps one Action Man (the police motorcyclist I remember vividly), and learned which clothing and accessories went with it, then each time I got my collection out, I suited up a figure with an outfit and all the related extras.
Also, during this period, the autumn/winter edition of the Argos catalogue was my bible each year from late summer when it was published, to Christmas Day when I hoped desperately I might have one of the many (many) toys that I’d been drooling over the previous five months.
In 1976, for example, the Action Man fun started on page 51.
(Photography fans, check out the film and cameras from page 108 onwards!)
My careful studying of both the Argos ranges of toys, and those in my mum’s Freemans catalogue (like Argos, but purely mail order and more expensive as it was paid in weekly instalments) meant I had a good idea of what current toy ranges looked like.
From this knowledge, I could tell that this new (to me) box of mixed Action Man wasn’t cutting edge, and indeed some of the figures were more primitive than those I already owned.
The (non-gripping) hands, lack of “eagle eyes”, and less realistic hair were giveaways. Plus there was a blond action man, with a beard, that I’d never seen in a shop or catalogue in my lifetime!
This unfamiliarity with the toys – and that figures, outfits, boots, weapons and more were all jumbled up together, meant it was more mysterious and exciting than if it had been, say a complete set, like my police motorcyclist.
This fairly early memory (I’d guess I was no older than five) set a pattern for many similar occasions later in life.
Not least of all with cameras, where numerous times I’ve bought from some source or other a lucky dip style box of photography gear, partly in the hope that there was something decent and of value (to me) in it, but partly just for that rummaging about in someone else’s outgrown treasure kind of feeling I’d known decades before with the Action Man box.
The particular haul I remember best was via eBay.
I could see from the collection of rather poorly taken photographs of the equipment (how ironic) that there were a couple of cameras, three, perhaps four lenses, and a bunch of other stuff like filters, and the obligatory 2X telephoto adapter and cheap flash that most kits seemed to contain in the 70s and 80s.
What caught my eye was a lens with Zeiss on the front, and on closer inspection it also said Flektogon 35mm f/2.4.
I knew from previous research that most Zeiss lenses were worth a second look, and the M42 mount trio of the Flektogon 35mm, Pancolar 50mm and Sonnar 135mm held particular reverence to those in the know.
I couldn’t see much of the condition of the Flektogon from the pictures, but some of the other pictures suggested this was one photographer’s collection, all M42 mount, and the items there were clearer images of looked in very good condition.
As I recall, the auction started at £45, which would have put most people off for a bunch of apparently random and untested old film cameras.
But from further investigation of sold lenses, it looks liked a decent Flektogon would set you back at least £100 on its own.
So I took a gamble and put in a bid in the dying seconds, and with no opposition, I won.
That moment, until I received the rather shoddily packaged cardboard box a week later, the excitement built, as did my fear that the lens was be useless and I paid nearly £50 for a box of junk.
Fortunately, and to my delight, as I sifted through the Praktica cameras, filters, flash gear and straps, I found two lenses in great working order.
A rather ugly Praktica 80-200mm zoom – which I later tested and was very respectable indeed, vastly surpassing my expectations – and a Zeiss Tessar 50mm – decent enough but 10 a penny and I could list 20 other 50mm lenses I’d rather use.
Then there was the Flektogon, which not just fully working, but in lovely condition, and seemed hardly used.
This was over five years ago, and it became – and remains – one of my very favourite lenses I’ve used.
I went on to sell the other two lenses after testing, and gave away the other stuff, recouping some of the outlay and I think in the end the Flektogon owed me about £20.
But, bargain aside, just discovering such a gem of a lens amongst that random box of discarded photography gear was such a thrill.
And it’s this feeling still that occasionally leads me to scour eBay (and sometimes charity shops, though they have fewer cameras than ever these days it seems) in search of a job lot that might put a smile on my face and unearth a treasure or two along the way.
In short, despite my general drift towards less gear over the last few years, new (old) toys seem to have an ageless excitement.
How about you? Can you relate to the experience of rummaging through a box of old toys (or cameras or anything else) like a five year old kid at Christmas?
Please share your favourite experiences and stories with us below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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